Dreaming in Cuban, published in 1992, was Cristina Garcia's first novel and was a finalist for the National Book Award. The novel has been critically and academically acclaimed. It is frequently anthologized as well as taught in literature classes. Garcia highlights many themes, such as family, relationships, politics, and spiritualism. The fragmented narrative jumps back and forth in time, incorporates some epistolary chapters (letters from Celia) and is told from the perspective of multiple narrators: primarily from the three generations of women in the del Pino/Almeida family.

As fragmented as the narrative can be, there is a rhythmic balance, a lucid ebb and flow between the often turbulent events and the lush imagery that describes them. Garcia has stated that the novel began as a poem and this poetic tendency, which might be described as Symbolist and/or Romantic, interweaves relatively seamlessly with Garcia's brand of magical realism, most often associated with the work of Gabriel Garcia Marquez.

The story is structured around the Cuban Revolution: the politics, family life, spirituality, and the cultural consciousness of native Cubans and Cuban exiles living in the United States. The four main characters in the novel (Celia, Lourdes, Felicia, and Pilar—women of the del Pino family) have significantly different personalities and different reactions to the revolution. Celia, the matriarch, is an ardent Castro supporter. Her daughter, Lourdes, is a Joe McCarthy-like figure. Celia's second daughter, Felicia, after three doomed marriages, practices Santeria for solace. And Pilar, Lourdes' daughter, is the rebellious teen who turns out to be the psychical bridge between Cuba and the U.S. as well as between Lourdes and Celia. Perhaps one of the most important points in the novel is the diversity and individualism of Cubans and Cuban exiles and the complexity of individual identities in a family which lives between those two worlds (Cuba and the United States...or three worlds if you count the "in-between" world of magical realism where Lourdes talks to her dead father, Felicia becomes a priestess, and Pilar—while living in New York—talks to her grandmother, Celia, who lives in northern Cuba). Pilar's transcendental correspondence with Celia is the primary example of living in one world and dreaming in the other.

Dreaming in Cuban Summary

(Masterpieces of American Fiction)

Dreaming in Cuban is the story of three generations of a Cuban family, told from a variety of points of view. The story begins with Celia del Pino, an aged woman, watching the waters off the north coast of Cuba with binoculars. She is on guard, devoted to The Revolution and El Lider (Fidel Castro, who is never mentioned by name in the book).

The novel is not told in straightforward, narrative terms, although there is a clear narrative thread running through the story. The book shifts back and forth between scenes, and the narrative is told from a variety of points of view. Some of it is told in the first person by Celia, Lourdes, and Pilar, including a number of extracts from Pilar’s diary. There are also numerous flashbacks to the past, mostly Celia’s past.

One device that is used to re-create the past is a series of letters that Celia wrote over a period of more than two decades. All of these letters were written to Gustavo Sierra de Armas, her first lover, a Spanish lawyer. After Gustavo returned to Europe in 1935, Celia wrote to him monthly up until 1959, when the revolution succeeded and Celia became a dedicated Communist. Throughout the book, Celia speaks of The Revolution (always capitalized when Celia’s point of view is espoused) in the present tense.

Felicia, Celia’s second daughter, still lives in Cuba and never leaves that country; unlike her mother, however, she continuously refers to the present political state of her country as one of tyranny. Felicia is married three times, but never happily. Her first husband, Hugo Villaverde, the father of Felicia’s three children, is never actually seen during the periods covered by the story, although he is alluded to a number of times. In 1966, Felicia threw a burning rag into Hugo’s face, then locked herself and her children in the house....

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Dreaming in Cuban Summary

(Society and Self, Critical Representations in Literature)

Dreaming in Cuban, Cristina Garcia’s first novel, chronicles the lives of three generations of women as they strive for self-fulfillment. This bittersweet novel also illustrates the Cuban American immigrant experience in the United States, focusing on the search for cultural identity in exile. In Cuba, for twenty-five years, the matriarch Celia del Pino writes letters to Gustavo, a long lost lover. She never sends the self-revealing correspondence, and stops writing in 1959, at the time of the Cuban Revolution, when the family becomes divided by politics and her granddaughter Pilar is born.

Celia, who believes that “to survive is an act of hope,” sublimates her unfulfilled romantic desires by imagining herself as a heroine of the revolution. In need of recognition, she supports Fidel Castro devotedly. As her husband Jorge del Pino leaves her to join their daughter Lourdes in the United States, she spends her days scanning the sea for American invaders and daydreaming about a more exciting life.

Felicia, Celia’s youngest daughter, abused and abandoned by her first husband Hugo Villaverde, suffers from fits of madness and violence. A stranger to herself and her children, she seeks refuge in music and the Afro-Cuban cult of Santeria; after becoming a priestess, she finds peace in death. Lourdes, Celia’s eldest daughter, raped and tortured by the revolutionaries, loses her unborn son. She escapes from Castro’s Cuba with her husband Rufino del Puente and their daughter Pilar. Emotionally unfulfilled, she develops eating disorders; while her family dreams of returning to Cuba, she supports the anti-Castro movement, establishes a chain of Yankee Doodle bakeries, and focuses on achieving the American Dream.

Raised in Brooklyn, in conflict with her Americanized mother, Pilar identifies with her grandmother Celia in Cuba. She visits the homeland in search of her true identity and, as she receives Celia’s legacy of letters and family stories, she becomes aware of the magic inner voice that inspires artistic creativity. Pilar returns to America with a positive self-image, accepting her double identity as a bilingual and bicultural Latina.

Dreaming in Cuban represents the coming-of-age memoir narrative. Through recollections and nostalgic remembrances, the novel illustrates issues of identity and separation, women’s survival strategies, and cultural dualism.

Dreaming in Cuban Chapter Summary

Dreaming in Cuban is a novel about the bonds and differences (political, geographical, and personal) of three generations of women in the del Pino family. The novel is set against the backdrop of the Cuban Revolution.

Ordinary Seductions

Ocean Blue
The narrative begins with the family’s matriarch, Celia del Pino, an ardent supporter of Fidel Castro (El Líder), proudly scanning the horizon for traitors as a lookout for Santa Teresa del Mar. Her recently deceased husband, Jorge, appears and mouths words she cannot understand, then disappears. She thinks of the revolution and her bond with her granddaughter Pilar. Very much in tune to the sway of the sea, Celia wades into the water, then swims back and watches the sea until daybreak.

Felicia, Celia’s troubled younger daughter, arrives having just received a call from New York (from older sister Lourdes) informing her of their father's (Jorge) death. Celia tells a distraught Felicia that she already knows because Jorge visited her last night. Herminia, Felicia's best friend, says Felicia must make peace with her father. They visit La Madrina, a Santeria priestess, where they sacrifice a goat to Elleguá, the god of the crossroads. Chapter 1 ends with Felicia passed out on La Madrina’s saint-room floor.

Going South
Early morning in Brooklyn, Lourdes gets ready for work, expecting her daughter, Pilar, to be at the bakery after school. Like Celia’s pride in her solitary guarding of Cuba’s coast, Lourdes enjoys her morning walk and the quiet of the bakery before it opens. When Jorge dies, Lourdes cannot reach her mother but does talk to Felicia. Lourdes has gained 118 pounds since her father got sick and came to New York. During this time, her appetite for baked goods and sex has increased. An exhausted Rufino, Lourdes's husband, is amazed that as her weight increases so does her sexual agility.

The day Lourdes learns of her father’s death, Pilar witnesses her father kissing another woman. Fed up with her mother’s intrusiveness and black-and-white worldview, and moved by a deep-seated urge to see Celia, Pilar decides to return to Cuba.

On the bus to Florida, Pilar daydreams. Pilar and Celia had written each other letters, but now, she mostly listens when Celia speaks to her at night. Pilar recalls how her father had to convince her mother to let Pilar go to art school, how her painting is becoming more abstract, and how her grandfather, Abuelo Jorge, told her that she reminds him of Celia. Pilar dreams she is on a beach, wearing white, surrounded by people praying, and she can see Celia’s face.

The House on Palmas Street
Celia waits for her twin granddaughters, Luz and Milagro, Felicia’s children, outside the Nikolai Lenin Elementary School. She considers her life of waiting: for her husband to leave so that she could play Debussy on piano, for rains to end, and for her lover to return from Spain. Before marrying Jorge, Celia fell in love with Gustavo, the true love of her life. When Gustavo returned to Spain, Celia was inconsolable. Her great aunt, Alicia, took her to a santera, who told Celia that she saw a “wet landscape” in her palm. Celia met Jorge, who insisted she write to Gustavo, and if he did not reply, she and Jorge would marry. Celia wrote a letter to Gustavo every 11th of the month for the next twenty-five years and stored them in a chest.

Celia takes Luz and Milagro home to Felicia, and then she takes Ivanito to their house on Palmas Street. Celia recalls the time she and Jorge stayed with them in the same house, concluding that the house “brought only misfortune.” Jorge was often away on business and his mother, Berta Arango del Pino, and sister, Ofelia, treated Celia terribly. Celia became pregnant and decided that if she has a boy, she will leave for Spain, hoping to find Gustavo. If it is a girl, she will stay. Lourdes is born, and Celia, just before she enters an asylum, hands the baby to Jorge, saying, “I will not remember her name.” Lourdes and Celia turn out to be on opposite ends of the political spectrum.

As the narrative returns to the present, Celia begins working in the sugar cane fields. She returns one day to find Felicia incoherent. She takes the twins to Santa Teresa del Mar. Ivanito will not leave his mother. Celia recalls how Hugo Villaverde, Felicia’s first husband, had beat her and returned from a trip to sire Ivanito and give Felicia syphilis.

Celia’s Letters: 1935-1940
Celia tells Gustavo of her marriage to Jorge and the birth of their daughter Lourdes. Writing from the asylum, she meets Felicia Gutíerrez, who had killed her husband by lighting him on fire. Celia says “they,” perhaps the asylum orderlies, burned Felicia in her bed, although it may have been a suicide. Celia names her second daughter Felicia and Jorge thinks this will doom her. Although still in love with Gustavo, Celia writes that she is surprised how affected she is when Jorge is in an accident. While Jorge is recovering, Lourdes does does not leave his side, and the two of them ignore Felicia’s cries for attention.

A Grove of Lemons
Pilar arrives in Florida and looks for her cousin, Blanquito. Unable to reach him, she seeks refuge in a church where she remembers being kicked out for comparing Spanish inquisitors to Nazis. At Blanquito’s house, she spies his mom, Rosario, and her paternal grandmother, Abuela Zaida, whom Pilar describes as “fakely pious” and generally superficial. As it starts to rain, Pilar falls asleep on a lawn chair and is discovered by Tia Rosario....

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